List of Medieval Stringed Instruments

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Many modern stringed instruments have their roots in the medieval period. Minstrels and troubadours of the Middle Ages had a wide variety of instruments to choose from, allowing them to pluck, pick or strike various strings in their quest for the perfect melody.

Lute

  • The origins of the lute can be traced to 2000 BC, says the ClassicOL website. Despite only appearing in Europe in the 14th century, it is one of the best-known stringed instruments from the medieval period. The lute shares some characteristics with the modern guitar, but the body is rounded and there are no fixed frets.

Gittern

  • Similar in appearance to the lute, the gittern was another ancestor of the modern-day guitar. Musicians plucked the instrument with their fingers or with a pick.

Citole

  • The citole was another guitar-like instrument. Unlike the lute, the citole was fretted and generally featured only four or five strings.

Harp

  • Harps were popular across Europe in the medieval period. Depending upon the century and the region, harps had between 8 and 29 catgut or wire strings, says the Trouvere website. Each string was tuned to a specific note.

Psaltery

  • The psaltery consisted of a number of strings stretched over the top of a hollow wooden box. Musicians played the psaltery by standing it upright and plucking the strings with their fingers.

Dulcimer

  • Similar in design to the psaltery, the dulcimer consisted of a number of strings stretched across a wooden sound box. However, musicians did not pluck the strings with their fingers. They placed the instrument on a flat surface and struck the strings with small wooden hammers.

Vielle

  • The vielle was a medieval fiddle, similar in shape and sound to the modern violin. It was a hugely popular instrument during medieval times, particularly among troubadours. Medieval fiddles such as the vielle influenced the design of the viol, a stringed instrument popular in the later Renaissance period.

Rebec

  • The rebec was a stringed instrument similar to the vielle or fiddle. It was of North African origin.

Hurdy Gurdy

  • The hurdy gurdy was arguably the most complex stringed instrument of the medieval period. The musician turned a crank at one end of the instrument. This made a wheel rub against the strings, causing them to vibrate. The player then altered the pitch of each string using a keyboard. A soundboard helped to amplify the resulting melodies. The hurdy gurdy was based upon an earlier, less complex instrument known as a symphony.

References

  • Photo Credit hands and harp strings image by Paul Retherford from Fotolia.com
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